Lighting the Way

Be an Exhibitionist

Inventors with novel products should always try to find the right buyer who can see where the product might sell. The best way to find those buyers is at trade shows.

Exhibiting at a major show is expensive. The PPAI Expo, for example, charges $1,395 for a 10-by-10-foot booth, but in the end it's cheaper than calling many customers before finding the buyer who will adopt your product. Trade shows help you find buyers as well as meet sales agents and master distributors looking for new products.

Walk around the show and find booths with products priced similarly to yours, and sell to the same types of stores you want to sell to. Ask people in those booths who their agent or distributor is for the state you live in. Once you contact that person, he or she is often willing to give you a list of agents or distributors nationwide.

Success on Display

One reason stores don't like to carry a novel product is that people won't be looking for it or know what it is. "At shows, we displayed our product in a dark booth in which the cubes really showed well," Vanderschuit says. "They don't show as well in a blister package, [so] we've developed a display that shows off the cubes. We're working to get stores to carry it."

Don't develop your display until after you visit stores to see what kinds of displays are used for new products. Sometimes, they'll sit at the end of an aisle or in a point-of-purchase display by the cash register.

Once you see what displays stores like, design similar ones for your product. You may even need two or three if you plan on selling to a variety of stores. Your best bet is to have them ready when attending trade shows.

One of the most important steps is to find out what obstacles you will face. Keep your eyes open to possible markets, and exhibit at trade shows. It's a simple formula, but as Vanderschuit has proved, it works. The market does want novel products. It's your job to keep pushing until your product is accepted. If you do, you could match Vanderschuit's success.

The Electronic Retailing Association, which represents direct-response marketers that sell on TV, the Internet and radio, is hosting its annual trade show October 12-16 in Las Vegas. This show is great for those who've invented a product with broad appeal. Many direct-response advertisers will be looking for new products and will set up exhibits that detail the products they've successfully sold. The show can be a good opportunity to talk to a number of service providers who could help you launch your product. For more information, visit or call (800) 987-6462.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas. Send him your questions at

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lighting the Way.

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